Keeping the ho ho ho in holiday

Published by Lori Pickert on December 17, 2013 at 08:52 AM

Who was telling you way back in 2007 to chill out and lower the pressure of the holidays? I was JOMO before it was cool:

Holiday resolutions


My holiday wish for you

This year my 17-year-old and I are having a song advent. For the month of December, leading up to Christmas, every day we take turns giving each other a new song. Then, we dance. New tradition: Advent dance party.

This was a spur-of-the-moment thing and it has been so great. New music? Yes! Daily dance party? Yes! And at the end of the month, we’re going to burn our 24 songs onto DVDs and enjoy them all year long.

Every year the younger son and I do the LEGO advent calendar. (Older son bowed out some years ago when he got “too old.” The younger son and I will apparently never be too old.)

I don’t know if you’ve ever done the LEGO advent calendar, but it can be a little … how shall I say this … non-festive. LEGO thinks escaped convicts are normal holiday fare. Also, firemen. Some years you don’t get a Santa at all; other years, you get naked Santa:

Thanks, LEGO. That’s not at all disturbing. Is he wearing a thong? Not an improvement.

This year we decided to make each other our own custom LEGO advent calendar. The boy’s been getting a “knights’ Christmas party” that I put together but he went above and beyond and made me custom LEGO minifigs from some of my favorite Christmas movies.

Dudley from The Bishop’s Wife:

Is that Cary Grant or what?! Also from The Bishop’s Wife, Henry and the model of his cathedral:

Capturing David Niven’s moustache in LEGO. Plus the cathedral has stained-glass windows — this photo doesn’t do it justice.

From A Christmas Story, dream-sequence Ralphie:

And of course:

Flick? Flick who?

Finally, an important scene from another classic Christmas movie:

Before you judge me for considering Die Hard a Christmas movie, let alone watching it annually, remember — it doesn’t matter what your traditions are, just that you’re having a great time with the ones you love.

And if you break out into dance, even better.

Happy holidays from me to you!


Still better than this:


One weekend you run into a friend who asks you how your holiday season is going and you think about the kid with the never-ending cold, the house that’s a mess, the decorations you haven’t managed to put up yet and the gifts you haven’t even thought about much less purchased, and you say, “Oh, it’s good. How about yours?”

And they tell you about taking the kids into the city to see the lights and then go ice skating and it’s a lot of work but you only get one childhood, right?, besides it’s a weekend they’ll never forget and after they leave the coffee shop you go outside and tap your head slowly on a brick wall for a few minutes.

The following weekend you run into a different friend at the same coffee shop and you’re feeling chuffed about all you accomplished during the week and when they ask how your holiday season is going you say terrific, in fact, you may take the kids into the city to see the lights and then go ice skating and they smile in the way you imagine they would smile at someone going into surgery and pat your arm and say, “That’s nice, but we prefer a season that’s more *meaningful*, you know? Today we’re going to play in the snow, have hot chocolate, and then make handmade cards for the nursing home. But I guess a commercial holiday is fun, too!” And after they leave you go outside to your special wall.

There are a lot of measuring sticks for special occasions like holidays, birthdays, summer vacations — and education, too. The variety is wide enough that you can always find that special measuring stick that makes you look like you’re failing miserably.

This is one reason why people tend to clump up with others who are making similar choices — because then it’s *standardized testing*. You can concentrate on one measuring stick and put all your effort into being the most Waldorf-y you you can be.

FOMO is everywhere this time of year, making you feel like no matter what you choose, you’re blowing it somewhere else. So this is just me popping in to say the competitiveness of “you’re not doing enough”/”you’re doing too much”/“you’re doing the wrong thing” is for suckers. Forget the impossible-to-find sweet spot and instead of being hard on yourself and those around you, prioritize and relax. Pick the thing you really want to do and do that. Do less so you can enjoy more.


*Note: There is a fantasy element to this post that imagines you got to go to the coffee shop alone two weekends in a row.

*The title of this post refers to George and Harry Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. If you don’t have time to watch it this year, I forgive you.

Think about what you did right this year

Published by Lori Pickert on December 31, 2012 at 10:57 AM

I have a thing about goals, so I really like the New Year. I like the beginning of all the seasons. When things change over, it feels like a reboot. You can stop, reassess, make new plans, and so forth.


The problem with resolutions is that they so often don’t pan out. It takes significant effort to really make a lasting change in your life. And failing again and again can make you feel like just giving up. Being inspired is nice, but action is tough.

But change really is possible. The way we go about it is often a waste of time and more harmful than helpful.

Don’t just think about what you don’t like about your life. Think about what you DO like — then figure out how to have more of it. Think about what’s working and how you can make that happen more often. Put your attention and focus on the thing you want to see more of. Feed your successes.

Think about smaller steps. It’s difficult to completely change from bad to good, but it’s possible to slowly build new habits. If you focus on one small thing at a time, failure will only send you bumping down one step instead of a whole flight of stairs.

Focus on positive goals, not negative goals. Instead of “stop,” “don’t,” and “no,” create goals that say “try,” “do,” and “prioritize.” Embrace the people, habits, and things that create good in your life. Adding more of them will automatically create less of what works against you.

The first step is believing that you can make the life that you want. If you want your children to build that life for themselves, you must believe that you can do it, too. If they see you living the life you want, they will know they can do it, too.

Posts about Goals and Resolutions:

Goals, goals, goals: Expectations vs. reality (Princess Bride edition)

Resolutions get a bad rap (The 5 resolutions that work for *everyone*)

Four ways to make a change — “The parts of your life that you value most deserve most of your attention and effort.” Believe it!

Resolutions get a bad rap

Published by Lori Pickert on December 30, 2011 at 02:43 PM

It's that time of year when people either announce their resolutions for the new year, keep quiet and mull them over alone, or loudly denounce having them at all.

Personally, I am pro-resolution. After all, how often do we see meaningful change where the first step wasn't a firm resolve to see that change occur?

In that spirit:

Resolution 1: It's not all or nothing.

Resolution 2: Break it down.

Resolution 3: Take real baby steps.

Resolution 4: Use the upward spiral.

Resolution 5: Quit.

Holiday resolutions

Published by Lori Pickert on December 7, 2011 at 02:36 PM


Holiday Resolutions, 2007–2011. (I rerun this post most years.)

I will not make a holiday village out of gingerbread and royal icing.

I will make sugar cookies and let the kids decorate most of them.

I will not make my own, fabulous yard decorations out of dried grapevine and fairy lights.

I will let the boys hang the loud, multicolored lights they like.

I will not make all my gifts.

I will lay on the floor and watch "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "The Grinch" with the boys.

I will not take the boys to see "The Nutcracker".

I will play board games with them on the floor under the tree.

I will not organize a ski trip for friends and family.

I will sled with the boys in the backyard.

I will not take a special holiday portrait of the kids and send it out to friends and family with tasteful letterpress cards.

I will recycle a vacation picture and order 29-cent cards online. And I'll send half as many as last year.

I will not take tins of homemade cookies and fudge to our friends, neighbors, and service people.

I will invite my friends over to eat cookies and hang out.

I will not go to a different party every weekend.

I will stay home and make paper chains.


Goals, goals, goals: Expectations vs. reality

Published by Lori Pickert on January 2, 2010 at 04:38 PM


Setting and working toward goals is like traveling through the Fire Swamp. There are the fire spurts of distraction, the quicksand of despair, and the R.O.U.S.'s (Rodents of Unusual Size) of other people’s expectations.

The Fire Spurts of Distraction

We announce on Monday that we will be doing X from now on … but then we forget on Tuesday. We don’t think about it again until Thursday, by which time it seems like a lost cause. I mean, if you aren’t starting something new on the first day of the first month of a new year, what use is it? At least we should wait until Monday.

How can we stay focused?

Set yourself up for success: Write down your goal in your journal, post it on the wall, talk about it with your children. Celebrate your successes. When you backslide, set a good example for persistence — simply start again.

The Quicksand of Despair

Things aren’t working out the way you wanted them to. You stopped doing the things you wanted to do. The kids are veering off the path you wanted them on. In fact, they’re right back to their old routine. It’s obvious that you aren’t up to this, and you should probably just give up.

How can we stay positive?

Remember that your children’s best lesson for how to live a good life is the way you live yours. Be as supportive and encouraging of yourself as of your child. Remember that it’s only failure when you don’t get back up again. Set a good example for optimism and resilience — accept imperfection and keep working toward your goal.

The  R.O.U.S.'s of Other People’s Expectations

You don’t actually need other people to express their opinions; by living on the planet for more than two decades you have absorbed them through your skin.

Your goal for your child may be something entirely reasonable like “I want him to have friends.” They will whisper in your ear: “Why does he have so many friends who are girls? Shouldn’t he play with more children his own age? Relatives don’t count!”

Your goal may be to help your child work more deeply. They whisper: “Shouldn’t he be covering more material? Is that the only thing he’s going to learn about this year? Isn’t he a little obsessed with [dinosaurs/trains/Greek mythology/bugs]?”

How can we live our values?

Our goals are tied irrevocably to our values. When we make a goal or a resolution, we are stating out loud how we want to change our outside life to match our inside idea of what is important.

My boys love Aesop’s fable about the man, the boy, and the donkey. I reference it frequently.

A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: "You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?"

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: "See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides."

So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn't gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: "Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along."

Well, the Man didn't know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said:

"Aren't you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?"

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey's feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.

"That will teach you," said an old man who had followed them:

“Please all, and you will please none!”

We need to recognize that there are many opinions and prejudices floating around, and we have internalized most of them. But we have taken the time and given careful thought to identifying our core values — and that is how we want to live, aligned with those core values.

Kipling said, “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too” … It is natural to recognize the opinions of others and the doubt they cast upon your choices. The important thing is being able to say, “But this is what I believe. And so this is how I am going to live.”

What are you doing? And why?

Your goals and resolutions are the what. Your values are the why.


Merry Christmas

Published by Lori Pickert on December 25, 2008 at 03:17 AM

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. — Charles Dickens

Merry Christmas, friends.


My holiday wish for you

Published by Lori Pickert on December 7, 2008 at 05:09 PM

Do less. Enjoy it more.

Great holiday books for kids: holiday favorites

Published by Lori Pickert on November 28, 2007 at 05:11 PM


I've had such a great response to the last two days of book posts that I decided we'd have more book talk today! (It doesn't take much convincing to get me to talk about books. Anyone want a cup of hot chocolate?)


I have a few less familiar (I hope) holiday books to share with you. Of course, I love The Polar Express. We read it every Christmas Eve. I love love love it. But everybody's heard of it. Maybe some of these will be new to you.


We love this beautifully illustrated book of Robert Frost's poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. The dust jacket is vellum, with the cover gorgeously illustrated in a way that is simply uncommon today. This isn't a terribly long poem, but we read it very slowly, to enjoy looking at each picture. This book makes a lovely hostess gift; it can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.


Another book with a vellum dust jacket (co-inky-dink) is Abbie Zabar's A Perfectly Irregular Christmas Tree. It's unfortunately out of print, but that won't stop me from bringing it up. It tells the story of a tree chosen for Rockefeller Center, and we love her illustrations.

(Abbie's book The Potted Herb makes a great gift or stocking stuffer for a gardener, and it's still in print.) Country Living magazine did a layout on Abbie's house and Christmas decorations a gazillion years ago and I've never forgotten it. In fact, I still have the issue! If I can find it (ha), I will share.


Back when the boys were small, some dear friends gave us Stranger in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy. The title sounds a bit ominous, but it is really a sweet story illustrated with gorgeous photographs of snowy woods and woodland creatures. The boys loved it.


Is everyone in love with Toot & Puddle, or is it just me? We don't even have all of their books; the boys are a little too old to snuggle down with one these days. I love I'll Be Home for Christmas.


Oh, okay, one more mention of a pure classic before I go. No, not Snowy Day, although, hey, that's another good one! I'm giving a shout out to Katy and the Big Snow. I love all of Virginia Lee Burton's books, I think. What a great bundle to give a favorite little — Mike Mulligan, The Little House, and Katy and the Big Snow! (Is The Little House out of print?!) And just to round things up by getting back to the obscure, have you ever seen her book Life Story? No, it's not her autobiography — it's an amazing picture book telling the story of evolution.

Time to put the winter- and holiday-themed books in the basket by the wood stove, dig out the flannel lap quilts, and wait for the first snow.

Great holiday books for kids: read-alouds

Published by Lori Pickert on November 27, 2007 at 10:59 PM


Okay, you aren't going to believe this, but once again I managed to piddle away the day and forget to take my photographs before the sun slipped away.

It was a beautiful day, too! Warm, and we continued trying to winterize the Airstream so it won't bust a pipe over our cold midwestern winter.

Thank you everyone for your book recommendations re: yesterday's post! We have an absolutely enormous home library, partially due to the fact that we are out-of-control biblioholics and partially due to the fact that when we closed my school we brought home a good section of the library (including doubles and triples of our favorites, because why not?).

Today I thought I'd continue the bookish theme and list some of our all-time favorite read-alouds.

Of course, these books are just as enjoyable read to oneself, but you know, there is just a perfect read-aloud book. Mm, what are the criteria. The chapters must be long enough that one or two make a good evening's read. Not too much cliff-hanging action at the end of the chapters, causing undue agony to small ones writhing in their beds begging to read "just one more!" (Mommy needs her sleep.) I like a read-aloud that sparks some good conversations. And, I suppose, the most important thing to me is that it be written beautifully, so that reading it aloud is a pleasure in itself.

Anyway, here are some of our top favorites. We've read all of these two or more times, no more frequently than once a year.

The Little House books. I've read all the way through the series three times. The first time I read them, Jack was so small (two, maybe?) that I didn't think he was really getting it, although he always lay quietly in the crook of my arm. Then one morning he told me he'd had a dream. I said, oh really, what was it? He said, "I dreamt Pa made eggs for me and Mary and Laura!" So I guess he was getting it, after all! Their top favorite of these books was Farmer Boy. I think my top fave is Little House in the Big Woods. The descriptions of the harvesting, butchering, and putting up stores for the winter! Farmer Boy is also a paean to everything gastronomical. My advice: don't read this if you're on a diet.

A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you're a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You'll be free and independent, son, on a farm.

Mother was frying doughnuts. The place was full of their hot, brown smell, and the wheaty smell of new bread, the spicy smell of cakes, and the syrupy smell of pies.

One of my favorites from my own childhood: Rabbit Hill. How I loved this when I was a child. I must have read it every year since I was five. The boys love it, too.

The houses were all asleep, even the Dogs of the Fat-Man-at-the-Crossroads were quiet, but the Little Animals were up and about. They met the Gray Fox returning from a night up Weston way. He looked footsore and sleepy, and a few chicken feathers still clung to his ruff. The Red Buck trotted daintily across the Black Road to wish them good luck and good morning, but Father, for once, had no time for long social conversation. This was business, and no Rabbit in the county knew his business any better than Father — few as well.

Another favorite from my own childhood (in fact, I read them my childhood copy) is Rascal. We have probably read this aloud at least once a year the last three or four years. They absolutely love this book.

My harmless skunks had further complicated matters on a recent Sunday evening. These pleasant pets that I had dug from a hole the previous spring were now more than a year old and somewhat restless. They were handsome, glossy creatures — one broad-stripe, one narrow-stripe, one short-stripe, and one black beauty with a single star of white on his head. All four had perfect manners. Having never been frightened or abused, they had never scented up the neighborhood.

But one night in June when Wowser must have been drowsing, a stray dog came barking and snarling at them through the woven wire, and they reacted predictably. Sunday services were progressing at the church not seventy feet from their cage. It was a warm evening, and the windows of the choir loft were open. For the first time in his life Reverend Hooton shortened his sermon.

I'm afraid they're perhaps (sob) getting a little too old for Winnie-the-Pooh, but we own the big treasury that has all the books and poems in one volume, and I have read it all the way through, front to back, several times. This book, by the way, would make a great baby gift.

By the time it came to the edge of the Forest the stream had grown up, so that it was almost a river, and, being grown-up, it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to do when it was younger, but moved more slowly. For it knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, "There is no hurry. We shall get there some day." But all the little streams higher up in the Forest went this way and that, quickly, eagerly, having so much to find out before it was too late.

Already mentioned yesterday, but worth mentioning again, we've read aloud and loved (more childhood favorites of mine) A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door. The rest of the L'Engle books they've read themselves, but these two we have read aloud several times.

"You mean you're comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?"

"Yes." Mrs. Whatsit said. "You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you."

This year we read aloud for the first time Treasure Island, and both boys absolutely loved it. I hadn't read it myself since I was a child and I had forgotten how exciting it was. A few weeks after we read it aloud, my older son sat down and read it again to himself.

He was plainly blind, for he tapped before him with a stick, and wore a great green shade over his eyes and nose; and he was hunched, as if with age or weakness, and wore a huge old tattered sea cloak with a hood, that made him appear positively deformed. I never saw in my life a more dreadful-looking figure.

Even though the boys are now 8 and 11, I still read aloud to them every night. They have been reading on their own for years, but they still love to be read to, and I love to read aloud to them. They also love to take their turns reading aloud. Sometimes meals (at which everyone is allowed to read, always — they were aghast to find out this wasn't allowed when I was growing up!) turn into a free-for-all with everyone trying to entertain everyone else with selections from their book.

I don't know what the secret is to growing great readers, but reading aloud can't hurt.